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Marxist memes for TikTok teens: can the internet radicalize teenagers for the left? | Social media

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I’ve been researching Gen Z’s online memetic subcultures since 2016 and, over the past few years, I have watched a generation of young people become politicized online. Many began posting memes around age 15, and now, in their early adulthood, I have seen them decide how to vote, attend college, have children, join the national guard, join communist organizations, go off-grid, prepare for the revolution by running paramilitary drills in the woods and sometimes commit suicide. Everything that happens online is real. All of it has consequences in the outside world.

Young viewers begin by consuming relatively tame content and then wade into more radical territory. They may start watching a conservative comedy show, then platform algorithms steer them to political pundits and eventually into more extreme figures on the conspiratorial and ideological fringe. Today this process is popularly described as “the funnel”, a metaphor illustrating the wide and informal network of diffuse messaging and recruitment over time and across channels. One of the paradoxes of social media is that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are supposed to connect us with the larger world, but in practice funnel us into more and more narrow and similarly-minded spaces.

There has been a great amount of research and resources dedicated to mapping social media “pipelines” into far-right and reactionary politics. Less thought, however, has been dedicated to a leftwing alternative. This is a huge gap in how the left, broadly, thinks about online politics. While the problems of online rightwing radicalization are very real, I believe that the mechanisms of social media also offer a path for progressive and leftwing politicization.

Politicization is a process of closing loopholes in one’s worldview. Social media exposes us to new ideas that antagonize our current belief systems and induce change. As people, particularly young people, become aware of previously unseen inconsistencies in their beliefs, they move in fits and starts to close these cognitive gaps and towards what they feel is ideological clarity. Whether the outcome is good or bad depends a lot on what information they find and in what direction they move.

Although much of the current discourse about online radicalization has focused on the effects of recommendation algorithms, that is only part of the story. In many cases people go down ideological rabbit holes not because they are cynically misled by platforms, but because they cannot find satisfactory answers in mainstream media or discover hypocrisies in the narratives they have been told. Politicization is rarely a direct path and often involves doubling back on what were previously considered sacred and incontrovertible assumptions – which is also why many of these young people, who are search of new narratives, can now be reached by the left.

At this moment, many young people are searching online for a political identity. My sense is that the average viewer age for a lot of online political content is far younger than most platforms assume. During four years of deep immersion in these spaces I have rarely met a political meme account operator over the age of 25. Most seem to be around 17. Today’s online polarization is magnified by impressionable teenagers trying out new and transgressive political identities. They often signal-boost content that they themselves may not fully understand. Their lack of historical knowledge makes them susceptible to disinformation. Their inclination toward youth rebellion makes them predisposed to anti-establishment narratives.

Young people on social media are also operating within the larger political and economic context of stagnating wages, inequality, cultural pessimism and anxiety, all of which have been magnified by Covid-19 and may likely continue to get worse. This goes hand-in-hand with radicalization. As fewer people are able to access the benefits of the mainstream, individuals move further toward the polarized edges of the political spectrum.

As these impossible-to-ignore crises continue to unfold, influencers will need to tap into trending content to remain competitive in an attention economy. My suspicion is that all social media influencers will soon also become political influencers. They’ll have to: online personalities who stay neutral will quickly sink to the bottom of the newsfeed.

The good news is that the past few years of social media are a case study for strategies on how to build political movements online. The left can learn from this. Just as radical socialist and leftwing newsletters built radical organizations in previous decades, the same process is happening online today. The alternative media sphere has already begun to supplement and in many cases replace news consumption. Gen Z-ers are watching a lot more than they read. But the left needs to work harder to reach them.

Today’s left-leaning media landscape has an abundance of culturally progressive content about issues of social justice such as Black Lives Matter, police abolition and transgender rights, but a severe lack of economic or material analysis to follow it up. The world is in crisis right now, and most mainstream proposals seem woefully insufficient to the scale of the challenges ahead. One positive effect, however, is that previously radical viewpoints like socialism have re-entered the mainstream.

BreadTube is the current best attempt at harnessing this momentum. BreadTube, named after 19th century anarcho-communist writer Peter Kropotkin and his book The Conquest of Bread, is an online ecosystem of leftwing content creators, primarily on YouTube, who produce video lectures that are both entertaining and educational. Many of the most popular videos involve clarifying or debunking the implicit themes of popular films and media. Video makers such as Angie Speaks, ContraPoints, Cuck Philosophy, Hasan Piker, Innuendo Studios, Philosophy Tube and Shaun are doing important work to politically educate young people. These content producers are mostly crowdfunded and thus not required to bend or disguise their messages to appease investors. These channels are a main entry point where young people become newly conscious of leftwing politics.

Further down the leftwing funnel there are progressive news media such as The Majority Report, The Young Turks, The Intercept and Rising, among others as well as channels devoted explicitly to political education such as Jacobin, Verso Books, Zero Books, Democracy at Work and more, but no offline organization with which to directly capture this audience. Perhaps the DSA will one day grow to become this vessel.

Like the ship of Theseus, the American left (to the degree that such a thing currently exists) will be rebuilt plank by plank. It may look similar to today but it will be essentially different. The next generation of political radicals will have passed through some form of these online political spaces and will bring with them many of the oddities, peculiarities and baggage of internet subcultures.

Artists spend a great deal of time thinking about utopias and speculative visions of the future. Put simply, there is no desirable scenario that does not involve a revitalized left in the United States and abroad. Social media is already having the inadvertent effect of politicizing young people anyway. So we might as well put serious thought into making it work for us.

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Parler website partially returns with support from Russian-owned technology firm | Social media

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Parler, the social network popular with Donald Trump supporters, has partially returned online with the help of a Russian-owned technology company.

The network vanished from the internet after it was dropped by Amazon’s hosting arm and other partners over a lack of moderation after its users called for violence and posted videos glorifying the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January.

On Monday, Parler’s website was reachable again, though only with a message from its chief executive, John Matze, saying he was working to restore functionality.

The internet protocol (IP) address it used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks, infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette told Reuters.

DDoS-Guard’s other clients include the Russian ministry of defence, as well as media organisations in Moscow. Until recently, it offered 8kun – which was previously known as 8chan – protection from DDoS. Last week, DDoS-Guard became the latest company to cut ties with 8kun’s hosting company, VanwaTech, following inquiries from the Guardian.

If Parler’s “free speech” website is fully restored, users would be able to see and post comments. Most users prefer the app, however, which remains banned from the official Apple and Google stores.

Matze and representatives of DDoS-Guard did not reply to requests for comment.

On Wednesday last week, Matze told Reuters the company was in talks with multiple service providers but declined to elaborate.

DDoS-Guard was registered in 2017 under a limited partnership, a financial structure in Scotland that allows nonresidents to create companies with little scrutiny. Aleksei Likhachev and Evgeniy Marchenko, two Russian businessmen who registered it, remain owners of the company. The partnership under which DDoS-Guard is registered is called Cognitive Cloud and is listed at an address in Edinburgh’s Forth Street.

Speaking from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don last week, Marchenko told the Guardian DDoS-Guard was a global information security service that hosted “thousands of websites”.

Parler critics said it was a potential security risk for it to depend on a Russian company, as well as an odd choice for a site popular with self-described patriots.

Russian propaganda has stoked political divisions in the United States, supporting Trump and amplifying false narratives about election fraud but also protests against police brutality.

Parler, which disclosed it has more than 12 million users, sued Amazon last week after the cloud services provider cut off service, citing poor moderation of calls to violence.

In an update on Monday, Parler.com linked to a Fox News interview in which Matze said he was “confident” Parler would return at the end of January.

With Reuters


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Facebook claims it does not conduct business in Australia in Cambridge Analytica appeal | Technology

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Facebook is claiming it does not conduct business in Australia and does not collect and hold data in the country in its effort to avoid liability over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Last year, the privacy commissioner took Facebook to court over an alleged mass privacy breach involving the use of Australians’ Facebook data in a vote-influencing operation involving Cambridge Analytica, a company that assisted the Trump campaign and was then headed by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon.

The court action came two years after revelations in the Guardian and Observer that 50m Facebook users worldwide had their names, dates of birth, emails, city locations, friends lists, page likes and – in some cases – messages harvested to build powerful software that could predict and shape voter choices.

The information was gathered through a personality quiz app named “This is your digital life”, which collected the data of those who downloaded the app and their unwitting friends.

Only 53 people in Australia installed the app, according to court documents, but it was able to harvest the data of 311,127 Australians in total.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has accused Facebook of serious and repeated breaches of privacy law by leaving its users exposed to having their data sold and “used for purposes including political profiling, well outside users’ expectations”.

The case was brought against Facebook Inc, based in Delaware, and Facebook Ireland, meaning that the OAIC had to convince a court it had a prima facie case that both offshore companies carried out business in Australia and may have contravened Australia’s privacy laws.

Facebook’s parent company, Facebook Inc, has repeatedly fought the suggestion it does business in Australia, and lost.

As part of its case, it argued that it does not collect or hold data on Australian users in Australia.

That argument was rejected by Justice Thomas Thawley in September, who found Facebook Inc did collect and store information in Australia, through caching servers located here and through the installation and operation of cookies on Australian devices.

Thawley also found the company conducted business in Australia by providing local app developers with what is known as the Graph Application Programming Interface – a piece of software allowing apps to request personal information from Facebook users.

Now, Facebook is seeking to appeal Thawley’s ruling to the full bench of the federal court.

Court documents show it is arguing that “substantial injustice” would be caused if it is not given leave to appeal to the court.

Facebook says the appeal examines “important questions” about how privacy laws define what it means to carry on business in Australia and “collect” or “hold” personal information.

The OAIC did not comment on Facebook’s latest appeal.

But in September, following its success in the federal court, the regulator said:

“While these matters remain to be established at trial, the court held the matters were sufficiently arguable to justify service outside of Australia and subjecting Facebook Inc to proceedings in Australia.”

Facebook was approached for comment.


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GitHub apologizes for firing employee who warned of Capitol attack Nazi link | Technology

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GitHub, a technology firm owned by Microsoft, apologized on Sunday for what its COO, Erica Brescia, called “significant errors in judgment” following outrage that it had fired an employee, who is Jewish, for warning that “Nazis” were among the pro-Donald Trump mob who attacked the US Capitol on 6 January.

“In light of these findings, we immediately reversed the decision to separate with the employee and are in communication with his representative,” Brescia wrote in a blogpost. “To the employee, we wish to say publicly: we sincerely apologize.”

According to Insider, which first reported the firing, the tech firm terminated the employee two days after he predicted the insurrection’s potential Nazi links in a company chat room. The message allegedly cautioned “stay safe homies, Nazis are about”.

The firing garnered immediate outcry among staff. In response, GitHub hired an outside firm to investigate. The findings, released on Friday, revealed the procedural errors resulting in the tech company offering the employee his job back, and its head of human resources stepping down on Saturday.

Employees later circulated a letter demanding that the company answer questions about the worker’s termination, while also calling on them to denounce white supremacy.

In Sunday’s blogpost, GitHub noted that the executive acknowledged that “employees are free to express concerns about Nazis, antisemitism, white supremacy or any other form of discrimination or harassment” in an earlier statement shared with employees.

“It was appalling last week to watch a violent mob, including Nazis and white supremacists, attack the US Capitol,” the post noted the company’s CEO, Nat Friedman, had said. “That these hateful ideologies were able to reach the sacred seat of our democratic republic in 2021 is sickening.”


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